Free radicals and the power of antioxidants.
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What are free radicals?
Theoretically speaking, free radicals are reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species generated by our body due to exposure to different physiochemical conditions or pathological states. Did that get a little too technical?
Simply put, free radicals are highly reactive species that can cause considerable damage to biological molecules like DNA, proteins, lipids of both the cell membranes and nuclei of the cells. These free radicals are readily reactive and can cause both oxidation (lose electrons) and reduction (gain electrons) depending on what they encounter. Oxygen in this disruptive circumstance can cause a lot of damage to the body.
How does the human body produce free radicals?
Free radicals are naturally produced in the body through several metabolic processes. They are also generated due to external factors such as air pollutants, sunlight, allergens, caffeine, and bad nutrition. Strenuous exercise also increases oxygen consumption at the level of skeletal muscles and generates free radicals.
How do free radicals affect the body?
Before we understand the effect of free radicals on the body, we need to learn a little bit about cells and the meaning of oxidative stress.
Each cell has an outer layer called a cell membrane made of lipids and proteins which allows only certain particles to enter the cell. It acts as a protective barrier between the outer environment and the components of the cell thus maintaining the integrity of the cell.
When there are more free radicals in circulation than antioxidants required to fight them, it leads to oxidative stress. This imbalance damages the precious cell membrane as the free radicals act upon the lipids, proteins, and eventually the nucleic acids (DNA), therefore destroying the whole cell. By destroying healthy cells, free radicals can cause several health issues like hair loss, graying hair, wrinkles, dark circles, muscle cramps, and accelerated aging.
What are antioxidants and why we need them?
An antioxidant is a stable molecule that can donate an electron to a free radical at war against a cell. Think of antioxidant molecules as good soldiers that protect our cells from free radical damage. Antioxidants delay or stop cell damage with their free radical scavenging property.
Despite there being several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge these free radicals, Vitamin E and Vitamin C are the principal sources of antioxidants for the body. These powerful antioxidants help in reducing oxidative stress and provide you with several health benefits.
Vitamin E as an antioxidant.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. The most studied form of Vitamin E is alpha tocopherol as it is easily available and preferred by the body for absorption and metabolism. Vitamin E in this form protects the cell membranes from oxidation and prevents the free radical reaction on cells.
Vitamin E cannot be produced in our body and can only be obtained from diet and supplementation. It is readily available in nuts, seeds, greens, and plant oils, which should be included in the diet. Antioxidants are vital to maintaining the integrity and health of cells, translating to healthy muscles, skin and hair.